Meat Snacks Continue To Entice Consumers

Cleveland — As an increasing number of consumers view meat snacks not only as tasty options but also as important dietary staples, they are putting an emphasis on ensuring the products they are eating have been produced following the highest levels of ethical standards. Consumers are demanding the animals are humanely treated; pasture raised and grass-fed/finished; free of hormones and antibiotics; and raised by farmers practicing regenerative agriculture. Simply put, animal and environmental welfare are priorities. 

Three components contribute to meat snacks success, says Peter Maldonado, CEO at We Are The Chompians LLC (Chomps).

Flavor Options Drive The Sector

First and foremost is taste, and the options are limitless. Smoked, teriyaki and barbecue are the top three industry flavors, according to research from Innova Market Insights B.V., but there’s a smorgasbord of new offerings points out Tom Vierhile, vice-president of strategic insights North America for the company. Among them are basil, black truffle, rosemary citrus, chicken and waffles, maple pork and strawberry. Crispy textured snacks and the biltong also are catching on, he adds.

At Information Resources, Inc. (IRI), which shows dollar sales of meat snacks to be nearly $3.7 billion with an 8.5 percent year-on-year uptick., Sally Lyons Wyatt, executive vice-president and practice leader, points to an expanded range of proteins in recent years, including bison, chicken, pork (bacon), turkey, venison and salmon, with beef still serving as the main attraction and helping spur growth. Meanwhile, she says forms have expanded from just jerky sticks to strips, bites, cuts, chips and bars. 

Plentiful options have resulted in a broader demographic reach. For example, medium heat (mild jalapeno for example) and softer textures are bringing more female consumers to the sector, offers Maldonado, who says the female demographic now accounts for 75 to 80 percent of Chomps’ business. 

“The category is increasingly attractive to female consumers age 35 to 54 because of offerings that appeal to females’ interest in holistic health and flavor experiences,” confirms Lyons Wyatt.

Other flavor options worth noting, according to Anne-Marie Roerink, principal at 210 Analytics, are those that combine animal protein with other items such as mushrooms. “Such offerings were one of Whole Foods Market, Inc.’s top 10 food trends in 2019,” she notes. “Whatever the animal protein, format and flavor, meat snacks are ideally positioned for keto, paleo, Whole30 and other high-protein, low-carb lifestyles dominating the diet scene.” 

This plays into the second success factor for the segment — nutrition.

Better-For-You Claims Continue To Grow

“Launches making the high-protein claim grew at a compound annual growth rate of 3.1 percent for the period 2016 to 2019, while launches making gluten-free and clean-label claims of no additives/preservatives grew even faster: 10.3 and 16.2 percent respectively,” says Vierhile. 

“Meanwhile, the percentage of meat snacks making no sugar/sugar-reduction claims went from 7 percent of all U.S. meat snack launches in 2016 to 14.9 percent in 2019,” he tells Candy & Snack TODAY.

Environmental Concerns Strike  A Chord

As for the third success factor — animal/environmental welfare — many producers are raising or sourcing pasture-raised animals; using facilities audited according to animal-welfare guidelines; and practicing regenerative farming, and with good reason. 

According to the Pew Research Center, 67 percent of adults in the U.S. say the federal government is doing too little to reduce the effects of global climate change, and that percentage is much higher among millennials. Moreover, 41 percent of Americans say they are eating less meat for environmental reasons. 

Sharing this data is Sidd Singhal, brand manager for Epic Provisions, a General Mills, Inc. brand that promotes the use of regenerative and sustainable meat. “For the meat-snack segment to sustain growth over time, we must deliver to the consumer products made using environmentally responsible meat,” says Singhal, who defines regenerative agriculture as a holistic, principles-based approach to farming and ranching that seeks to strengthen ecosystems and community resilience.  

Many companies in the sector adhere to these practices, among them Hickory Nut Gap Farm, where Jeff Jarvis, director of sales, says the company’s “pasture-based farming model rebuilds the soil, helps to reverse climate change and treats animals humanely.” 

Chomps’ Maldonado points out: “Our animals are certified humane and are treated with adequate care the entirety of their lives.”

Post-Pandemic Staying Power

In many ways, meat snacks remain the quintessential snack: they’re portable and nutrient dense, and the range of formats and flavors continue to expand. They’ve also proven themselves to be attract at-home options during the pandemic, says Jarvis. “With consumers working and spending more time at home, they’re snacking more. This has contributed to a 20 percent increase in our 2020 meat stick sales.”

Neil Dudley, vice-president at Pederson’s Natural Farms Inc., seconds that notion: “The pandemic has been a boom for meat snack sales. Families, ours included, are consuming more snacks at home and that has meant strong sales for our company.”

Sales of Slim Jim brand meat snacks have remained robust during the pandemic, according to Burke Raine, president of grocery and snacks for Conagra Brands. He attributes this to consumer demand for both core and new items in multipack options in center-store locations, which enable retailers to capitalize on pantry-stocking purchases, while single-serve meat sticks are gaining unplanned purchase gains at key points of interruption, such as frontend, checkout and endcaps.

What Lies Ahead? In A Word: Innovation

“We value research and what’s trending in data, but we also study what’s happening in the food business as a whole with a forward-looking lens,” says Rusti Porter, CMO at Krave Pure Foods, Inc. “This includes restaurant menus, wine pairings, cocktails, food trucks, food editors, influencers and thought leaders, as well as what’s trending on social media. We use the lens of ‘familiarity with a culinary twist.’”

“Our most successful product launches come from someone in the organization or close to the organization requesting something they want but can’t find,” notes Dudley. Looking ahead, he predicts: “Whether it’s packaging, processing or whatever, innovation will continue to change the segment, taking it to the next level.”